25 Years of Washington Basketball

It’s no secret that the Washington Wizards are one of the most dysfunctional franchise in the NBA of the last quarter century. In the 1990s it was inexplicable trades (Chris Webber), bad signings (Juwan Howard, Rod Strickland), and quite possibly the most offensive thing of all, the name change. (Abe Pollin’s reasons still don’t hold water in my book, granted I’ll fight to keep the Redskins…)

The 2000s looked to usher in a new era of prosperity, and it started well when the Wizards took Richard Hamilton, Michael Jordan un-retired, and fans were excited again. Quickly, that fell apart as the team shipped off Hamilton, (Still pisses me off, I mean who trades a third year pro that was second on the team in scoring in each of his first three seasons for Jerry Stackhouse and Brian Cardinal? Hamilton only went on to make three All-Star appearances, two NBA Finals and won one championship), Jordan bartered the future for his immediate success and of course he took Kwame Brown.

Even later that decade when the Wizards became competitive under GM Ernie Grunfeld, they were better known for off-court antics and players with poor attitudes. Here is a brief run-down of my favorites during the Grunfeld era (which inexplicably is still going):

So as you can see, the life of a Wizards fan has not been a fun one, if you were born after 1978. But really, I think the most frustrating thing about the last 25 years has been the drafting; so for the purposes of this piece, I wanted to create the “best” starting five of Wizards draft picks since 1988.

Guys Who Just Missed the Cut:

Tom Hammonds PF: Drafted in 1989, 9th overall, Hammonds was never more than average. He did play 12 NBA seasons (only three with the Bullets) and had a career average of 5.3 ppg and 3.3 rpg. Probably would be on the starting five if not for the depth at the forward position. Notable players taken after Hammonds: Mookie Blaylock, Tim Hardaway, Shawn Kemp, B.J. Armstrong, Vlade Divac

LaBradford Smith SG: Taken in 1991, 19th Overall, Smith played 5 NBA seasons (3 with Bullets) and only average 6.7 ppg, 1.5 rpg, and 2.2 apg, but did post his career high of 9.3 ppg in 1993 with the Bullets. Pretty bad stat line, but Smith was drafted later, and there is only one player of note after him. Notable players taken after Smith: Rick Fox

1996 NBA Draft: I debated for a while if I could put an empty spot for where the Wizards would have been on draft day, but instead I figured I would just include them in the missed cut section because knowing D.C.’s luck, they would have swung and missed. Still, 1996 is of note due to the fact that it is often regarded as one of the deepest in history with 9 of the first 20 picks becoming All-Stars, and the Wizards only had one pick, 55th overall. And he never played in the NBA. Notable players taken after Wizards spot: Kobe Bryant, Peja Stojaković, Steve Nash, Jermaine O’Neal, Zydrunas Ilgauskas

Jared Jeffries: Taken in 2002, 11th overall, Jeffries was seemingly a good pick after he had led Indiana to the NCAA Championship game, but this was a flop. Jeffries never averaged more than 26 mpg and 6.8 ppg in four unspectacular years in D.C. Thankfully, the Knicks offered him more than the Wizards were able to so fans were spared this incident tarnishing their name. Ultimately, Jeffries lands here because there were no notable players taken after him and because of the aforementioned depth at his position. Notable players taken after Jeffries: Tayshaun Prince, Nenad Krstić, John Salmons

2009 NBA Draft: This was the year that the Wizards decided they were two veterans away from mediocrity, so they traded the #5 overall pick for Randy Foye and Mike Miller. I get so mad thinking about this, so I asked my buddy Jeff, who is a Timberwolves fan, what he thought about the trade.

I think it’s safe to say that the ONE good move David Kahn has made in his tenure as GM of the Minnesota Timberwolves was hosing the Washington Wizards the way he did in 2009. Kahn traded Randy Foye and Mike Miller, two players who horribly underachieved on a team dying for scorers,  to the Wizards for the 5th pick in the draft and a bunch of garbage*, most of which I believe Nikola Pekovic has since eaten. This trade provided Kahn with not one, but two opportunities to draft Jesus Christ  Ricky Rubio, only one of which he screwed up on (See: Flynn, Johnny).

Despite a promising rookie year from Foye in which he was selected to the 1st team All-Rookie team, he never really progressed in a Wolves uniform. He battled injuries and reversed body parts pretty frequently over his 3 years with the Wolves, and though he managed to average slightly over 16 points his final year with the team, it was really the result of the fact that nobody else could score.  In fact, his field goal percentage went down each year, falling to just 40% in 2009. Mike Miller, on the other hand, decided he wanted to re-brand himself from a sharpshooter (which they desperately needed) to an all-around player when he came to the Wolves. The problem with that was that the guy can’t dribble, pass, or defend.

Turning those two guys into Ricky Rubio was quite the feat. Given there were numerous question marks around Ricky prior to the draft, he has revitalized a franchise and filled seats for the first time since Kevin Garnett left town. Though his stats aren’t always eye-popping, the Wolves have been significantly more competitive since his arrival. He’s accomplished more in less than one season’s worth of games than those two accomplished arguably in their entire careers, minus Mike Miller’s solid showing in the Heat’s championship run last year.
*Etan Thomas and Darius Songaila were immediately waived, and Oleksiy Pecherov played 44 games for the Wolves in 2009, averaging 4.5 points and 2.8 rebounds.

Notable players taken after the Wizards spot: Steph Curry, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Jennings, Jrue Holiday, Ty Lawson

Now, here is the Starting Five for the Worst Wizards Drafted in the Last 25 Years:

Point Guard – Juan Dixon: Taken in 2002, 17th overall, Dixon is perhaps unfairly stuck with this group, but due to his position and paltry numbers… here he is. In four seasons, (he came back six years later for 50 games, but that doesn’t sway my argument either way) with Washington, Dixon never averaged two or more assists a game or double digit points. There wasn’t much depth after him, but I still remember on draft night how unhappy I was with that pick. Notable players taken after Dixon: Tayshaun Prince, Nenad Krstić, John Salmons

Shooting Guard – Jarvis Hayes: Taken in 2003, 10th overall, Hayes takes up the shooting guard spot on this team due to its lack of depth at that position and because of how deep that draft was. Hayes only averaged 9 ppg during his four years in the Nation’s Capital, and wasn’t much help to a team that desperately needed it. Notable players taken after Hayes: David West, Josh Howard, Leandro Barbosa, Kendrick Perkins, Boris Diaw, Nick Collison

Small Forward: Jan Veselý: Taken in 2011, 6th overall, this pick was awful then and is worse now. There has been a lot written about Veseleý and his game of late so I’ll just give you some highlights:

  • “This season, he has the same number of rebounds as personal fouls (88) and his free throw shooting has been an unsightly ad­ven­ture at 27.2 percent (9 of 33).” –Washington Post
  • His 6.76 PER this season 328th in the league (334 players qualify) –ESPN
  • “Jan Vesely is averaging 2.7 points and 2.4 rebounds this season and still can’t crack the rotation… and the Wizards might just have to come to the realization that he’s not a good basketball player.” –Rotoword

Say what you will about the rest of the guys on this list, I think that this pick will go down as the Wizards worst Lottery choice ever. Notable players taken after Veselý: Brandon Knight, Klay Thompson, Kawhi Leonard, Iman Shumpert, Tobias Harris, Kenneth Faried

Power Forward: Oleksiy Pecherov: Drafted in 2006, 18th overall, Pecherov was always a puzzling pick considering the Wizards’ needs at the time. Pecherov thankfully had a brief stay in D.C. encompassing two seasons where he played a cumulative 67 regular season games (3 playoff), with his best season coming in 2008-2009 when he averaged 3.6 ppg and 2.4 rpg. ComplexSports has him in its Top 25 Foreign Busts at number 18, but I think he should be much higher. Notable players taken after Pecherov: Rajon Rondo, Kyle Lowry, Shannon Brown, Paul Millsap

Center: Kwame Brown: Taken in 2001, 1st overall, Kwame Brown has been hailed by many to be the biggest draft bust of all-time (Personally I think Greg Oden takes the cake but that’s for another day), including Fox Sports which said

Brown immediately frustrated Jordan with his immaturity and poor skills. He’s now on his seventh NBA team and serves as yet another cautionary tale about choosing size and potential over skill and performance.

In four seasons as a Wizard Brown only averaged more than six rebounds per game once, and double-digit points once (This year’s #1 overall pick Anthony Davis averaged 13.5 ppg and 8.2 rpg) but was thankfully traded away in 2005 for Caron Butler so that’s something.